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by Porter Anderson - Originally published on December 3, 2018 in Publishing Perspective

In their filing supporting the students’ lawsuit in Detroit on appeal, PEN’s attorneys write that ‘One clear effect of the lack of access to literacy education is the inability to critically analyze “fake news.”‘

‘A Tragedy for All of Us’

A “friend of the court” amicus brief was filed at the end of last month (November 26) by PEN America, urging the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to recognize Americans’ constitutional right of access to literacy.

PEN America filed the brief in the case of Gary B v. Snyder, in which students at Detroit Public Schools have brought suit against the state of Michigan for a failure to provide what they assert are basic educational standards necessary to ensure that these children have a functional level of literacy.

In the suit, the students describe the conditions of their education as including unsanitary and dangerous situations, an absence of appropriate textbooks or other reading material, and overcrowded classrooms. As a result, many of these students assert that they’re unable to read, write, or process written material at anything approaching grade level.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the students’ suit in June—as is covered by Stephen Sawchuk at Education Week. And the case now is on appeal before the federal Sixth Circuit.

In its brief, PEN’s staff writes, “Depriving these children—our children—of access to literacy is an unacceptable and immoral tragedy for them. It is also a tragedy for all of us that is and should be unconstitutional.”

The amicus brief also stresses the economic challenges involved, its text stating that people “who lack literacy are far more likely to be low wage workers or unemployed and to rely on public financial aid. Their inability to get by will be exacerbated as the economy continues to move away from low-skilled jobs.

PEN America refers to two of its original research reports—Missing from the Shelf: Book Challenges and the Lack of Diversity in Children’s Literature (covered here by Publishing Perspectives) and Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth—to argue for the essential role of literacy.

“Low literacy also affects health and health care literacy, creating inefficiencies in our health care system and increased dependence on Medicaid. And low literacy is highly correlated with incarceration and recidivism, including among juveniles. Recognizing that access to literacy is a fundamental constitutional right would help address each of these concerns.”

US literacy rates, the filing asserts, “have made little progress in the last few decades,” with the rate between 2012 and 2014 not showing significant improvement over where it was between 1994 and 1998.

“As an organization of writers and readers, we can proudly attest to how literacy is essential to meaningful social and political participation in our communities.”James Tager

The filing also draws a connection between literacy and the ability to recognize fake news, the PEN attorneys writing, “PEN America’s October 2017 report, Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth, details the alarming inability of many Americans to understand the difference between accurate reporting and fraudulent news or advertising, and the threat it poses to American democracy, which requires an informed and engaged electorate.

“False information presented as factual, with the intention to deceive, undermines our democracy and our way of life by obscuring the truth, increasing political polarization, sowing distrust, stymying public debate, hindering the development of evidence- and fact-driven public policy, increasing vulnerability to private and foreign interests, escalating panic and irrational behavior during emergency situations, creating a culture of cynicism and permitting elected officials to avoid accountability.”

In a prepared statement, James Tager, PEN’s deputy director of free expression research and policy, is quoted, saying, “The complete failure of the state of Michigan to ensure a basic standard of literacy for these students is not only an outrage, it is also unconstitutional.

“PEN America has championed the freedom to write and to read for almost 100 years, and we recognize that this freedom to read is inextricable from the right, firstly, of access to literacy.

“As an organization of writers and readers, we can proudly attest to how literacy is essential to meaningful social and political participation in our communities. With this brief, we’re urging the Sixth Circuit to do the right thing and to take this step toward recognizing the right of access to literacy.” PEN America—which has merged the former two PEN chapters in the United States—was founded in 1922 and today has more than 7,000 writers and their supporters as its membership. It’s the US chapter of the PEN International movement.

Why should you, as an Indie Author, consider doing a pre-order? Simple - to build the impact of the release of your new book. There are many aspects to consider when doing a pre-sale, and the most important one is getting as many people to know about your new book as you possibly can.

This article will outline the key steps to creating and implementing a Pre-Order Program that helps you to succeed on many levels. This includes:

1 ―Setting a Release Date

2 ― How You Process Pre-Orders

3 ― Advertising the Pre-Order

4 ― Pre-Sale Dates

 

For you, as an Indie Author, the first and most important one is building a war chest that pays off so you can do more marketing with the least amount of financial impact. Thus, by doing a Pre Order program, you can take your time to create the buzz and hype necessary to build upon your sales; thus, your profit.

Let’s begin with the necessary steps:

1 – Setting a Release Date. Indie Authors tend to rush their book to press and release so they can begin to make money from their investment. This is where 99% of authors fail.

You want to take your time in creating the buzz for your new book. The ideal situation is to get the book done in an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) first. This is done after all the beta testers, and final edits are done. The ARC is what you will use to send out for press reviews, fellow-author reviews, and most importantly to bookstores to get the buzz started on the new book.

The ideal situation is 3 – 6 months before the release date. This should give you enough time to get the reviews back, add them to your new cover and be ready for the release date. Having the reviews will also be critical for readers and bookstores to see the quality of your work and to get excited enough to want to purchase a copy.

Once you have set your release date, move to Step 2

 

2 - How are You Processing Pre-Orders – Most indie authors want to make as much money as they possibly can. Thus they will process the orders themselves on their website, in person, etc. However, when you do that, you could actually be missing out on the ability to report your sales figures to organizations that matter…Best Seller Lists.

“Oh, I won’t sell enough books to be on that list” is the common response I hear from authors. Ok, so let’s say you don’t sell enough for the NYT or the other big lists. Heck, there have been book releases that haven’t hit those lists when they were first released, but they did months and even years after they were released. While they didn’t hit the big list first, they did hit the local and regional lists which then spurred them on to success and ultimately the big lists.

As an Indie Author, you can’t afford to purchase the membership needed to be able to report to the ‘lists’ but through other organizations, you can then have access to them, plus opportunities you would not otherwise have.

Indie Lector is a member of both the American Booksellers Association (Indie Bookstores) and the Mountain & Plains Indie Bookstores. Between both of these programs, we have the ability to report the numbers for national lists, regional and local. And now, the Indie Authors Top 10 List, which is distributed to Indie Bookstores in Texas. But, in order to qualify for these lists, the Indie Author must have sales processed through the Indie Lector Store.

 

Step 3 - Advertising the Pre-Order opportunity and what goes into this program.

Yes, we have built a following, small or large, if you have been collecting information from people you meet and have sold some books to, you should have an email list to use, a Facebook following, twitter followers and any other social media outlet you have grown. Each of those people is now a valuable avenue to promote your book and get pre-sales.

Create ad sheets (order one here) that promote the upcoming release of the new book. Make sure a call-to-action (link or web address) is clearly visible, so people can purchase the book with a simple click.

Then give dates that the pre-sale is valid for. During this time, you are also offering something special for the buyers. An autographed copy is the most common, but what about SWAG, or a special gift, or discount that will not be available to anyone else on any site anywhere?

Make this promotion special for one main reason, to create a bigger desire to buy your book. Anyone can buy your book. Anyone can get an autographed copy of the book. But, what can they get that others can’t?

Do you know what SWAG stands for? Sales Will Accelerate with Goodies. These goodies can range from bookmarks, buttons, posters, or anything that you can create and be clever with. But whatever it is, it must be unique to the Pre-Sale only. Don’t give away something during the Pre-Order that will be given away at another time. Make it special in some way.

This step can be done while you are waiting on the reviews. Plan it out and know exactly what you want to give away with the book during Pre-Orders. Then create your ad images that relate to this. You can also create a web page, so people will see what they are getting in the pre-order. But, use SWAG as part of the advertisement program.

You have your SWAG in hand, and you have ordered the special edition copies for the Pre-Order.

Please review other articles about Social Media use and best practices.

Wait, what was that – Special Edition?

Yes, the ARCs are not considered as a general public release copy of the book, so they are not sellable and do not count as your first print. Thus, you want to add something special to the Pre-order by having a First Edition of the book just for the pre-orders.

You should print out 100 copies of the book with your new cover design (reviews added). Then go into the interior of the book and add the line – Second Printing and the month and year you are doing it. Example: Second Printing April 2019 or Second Printing 2019. This simple act now confirms that your first print is exactly that ― a First Edition, limited edition of your book. This book now has more value than any book that is printed after it. You can also cut down the number of first prints to 50 if you want, but 100 is the ideal number. You can then also number the books as you autograph them and sell them so people can see how special their copy of the book is.

Let’s Recap - You have the ARC done, and it is out for circulation. You have your SWAG selected, and your advertising is ready to go. You know the release date of the final copy. Now you need to select the dates for the Pre-Order Sale.

 

4 – Pre-Sale Dates – Let’s say you have an April 1st release date planned. You sent your ARCs out in January so the reviews should be coming in by March, if not sooner. If those are on time, you now can re-create your cover to include the best reviews. You can also now begin to use the reviews in your advertisements.

If you have tied in with a bookseller to get the pre-sales counted, then they will know how to add the sales into the calculation for the first week of actual general public sales. Thus, you can set the pre-sales to end about two weeks before the general public sales so that those who purchased the books will have a chance to read it, and if all is good, talk about it.

This ‘talk’ is one of the critical aspects of getting additional sales in the first week of release. Combine that will the pre-sales, and you could end up with a huge number that moves you to the Top 10 of some list. This increases your exposure even more. All of this can be that one combination of events and programs that move your book much further ahead than just a simple release.

How long should the Pre-Sale be? I recommend that the sales period should fall over at least two basic pay-days. For example, the 1st or 15th, and two Fridays. This covers the basic pay-days and gives you a greater opportunity for sales. Keep this in mind as you set the dates and still allow for a couple of weeks of reading time for those who pre-order the book.

No book is ever guaranteed success, but when you work the system in the proper way, your chances of success increases. Even if it is not with the first book, the second, sixth or twelfth book can be that break-out book. Dedication, great writing and planning ahead make a world of difference for all successful books.

Once your Pre-Order is done, then make sure you follow through and get the books out to the buyers fast. Don’t delay the delivery. The sooner they get the book and SWAG, the happier they are. Delays only frustrate and can turn them against you. So, you want to have the books on hand by the end of the sales dates, envelopes ready to ship them in, etc. If you planned it out, you should be ready to take advantage of a great opportunity and momentum!

What about other opportunities to help make the Pre-Sales great?

Publishers have the money to do a lot of extra special events and programs. Indie Authors, most of the time, simply can’t afford to compete. Indie Lector, Texas Authors, and Indie Beacon gets that. After all, that is why these programs were created ― to help even out the playing field for Indie Authors.

To that point, Indie Lector is networking with other organizations to create opportunities for Indie Authors to present their books to bookstore buyers. Those listed with the Indie Lector Store will be kept abreast of these opportunities.

One additional item for Pre-Orders done through the Indie Lector Store is the opportunity to have a free Library Notice sent out about the new book. This gives the librarians an opportunity to learn about the book and to be a part of the Pre-Order program. It is another way to increase the ‘talk’ about the book.

As an Indie Author myself, I fully understand the need to watch every penny while trying to get the most out of opportunities for exposure. When I started out with my books in 2006, none of these types of programs were available to me. If they had been, I know my books sales would have been much better, and my income level much higher. Don’t miss out on using these tools as outlined here as a solid way to increase your success!

 

By Mark Gottlieb, literary agent at Trident Media group

It's important for authors to hold themselves in high esteem, by making comparisons of their writing to success stories. That is why I like to sit down with the writers I work with and nail down what the comparative or competitive book titles to their manuscript might be, before making a submission to editors at publishing houses. We in the industry casually refer to this as asking what the "comps" are (short for comparative or competitive book titles). These are books in the current publishing marketplace that are similar and successful. It's not just about simply saying that a book or author is not unique—it's about celebrating how great a potential publication could be...

Why are comp titles important?

A literary agency receiving a query letter or submission from an author, or an editor at a publishing house receiving a pitch and manuscript from a literary agent, will need to know what the comps are. The literary agent and the editor will be trying to figure out where that particular book/author would fit within their list of authors: is it commercial fiction, literary fiction, or upmarket fiction? If it's nonfiction, then which category of nonfiction? A literary agent or book editor will ask themselves where the book/author would be shelved in a bookstore: is it mystery/crime, romance, science fiction & fantasy, or something else? Most important of all, an agent or editor will be asking themselves how well that book/author would perform in the marketplace: will this book go on the become a mega bestseller or garner highly prestigious awards?

In fully comparing apples to apples, a book editor at a publishing house will try to base their potential offer to publish, on the sales performance of the comp titles. They do this by running a profit & loss statement, or what we in the publishing industry call a "P&L" or "P&L sheet." Plugged into the P&L, which also accounts for the costs associated with printing and publishing a book, will be the sales numbers on the comp titles. A publisher can look up the sales numbers of a given comp title on Nielsen BookScan, where some of the most accurate reporting of sales numbers are given, so there's no lack of transparency there. That's why an author is a in a far better position by having their literary agent offer the author's successful comps to the publisher, over allowing the book publisher to come up with accurate comps of their own. This is especially the case if the publisher's comps haven't been all that successful. Then the publisher might not want to publish the book, or they might make a smaller offer.

An author that has assembled a good list of two to three comp titles will be miles ahead in the publishing process. When a book publisher is in the stage of getting their salesforce to place copies of the book among retailers, guess what question the publisher will be asked by the retailer: What are the similar books to this one? Having the comps handy can therefore help the book publisher in the actual publication process, by raising a book retailer's expectations. Maybe the book retailer decides to order more copies of a book for their stores, or they decide to recommend and prominently display the book, if they think the book will be a success.

 

What's a good comp title?

As much as possible, an author should make literary agents and editors think that their book has a good-looking, smart and athletic "twin" in each of its comps. A good comp title is a bestselling or major award-winning book. It's easy to know if the comp title is one of those two things by simply looking at the cover of a comp. If the cover states, "New York Times bestseller" or "National bestseller" then you know you probably have a bestseller on your hands. The same goes for major awards featured on the cover. If it says, "National Book Award-winner" or "Man Booker Prize-winner," then the same would be true. Looking at the number of reviews on Amazon (hundreds or thousands is impressive), and the overall Amazon sales ranking (the closer to the Top 100 the better), are other ways to know how well the comp title has been performing.

The comps should have been published within the last five years. Outside of five years, book publishing will have been a different industry, with books written and published in different ways. What is popular reading among book lovers also changes quite a bit over the years. Those are a few of the reasons why classic novel comps are not good comparisons, and will often garner eye rolls from editors. When a fantasy author tries to comp to J.R.R. Tolkien, or a mystery/crime writer tries to comp to Edgar Allen Poe, it also begins to look self-aggrandizing.

It's important to keep the comps accurate. We are comparing apples to apples here, rather than apples to oranges. So a comp title should also be of the reading age range and of the book genre. If an author wrote a young adult novel, then they shouldn't go and compare it to an adult romance novel; or if an author of wrote a nonfiction work of history/politics/current affairs then they obviously shouldn't refer to it a science/technology book. At the same time, only books make for good comparisons, since we're trying to figure out where a book belongs in a bookstore, rather than where a movie or a TV show fits on the shelf.

The process of assembling comp titles may seem small or insignificant at first glance, but it is actually a huge part of the publishing process and a key player in a book's success. The comp process ultimately helps readers find their way to an author's book.

 

Mark Gottlieb has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on Publishers Marketplace in Overall Deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors of fiction and nonfiction. Mark is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. Since his time at Trident, he has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Mark is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres.

 

The following list has been created by Danielle Vann as part of her presentation to the 2018 Authors Marketing Event. This list has been updated as of November 1, 2019. Not all book contest or writing contest are listed below.

Information, requirements, and procedures can be found on the individual award’s websites. Research each contest and make sure your book(s) are the right fit. Most contest are open to international publishers and authors if the books are written/submitted in English:

Authors Marketing Guild (formerly Texas Authors) established their Book Contest in 2012, open to multi genre’s. Entry is open to any author around the world. Fee applies. http://AuthorsMarketingGuild.com

Dear Indie, LLC (DEARIndie.org) established their short story contest in 2016. It is open to any author worldwide. Fee applies. Entries received March 1 to July 31 each year.

Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, put on by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), is a big one. This organization has over 3,000 members, and among the membership, this is the most coveted award. It’s also the only one that shows you the judges’ comments about your book.

Best American Series, The is offered through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American accepts essays, sports writing, travel writing, nature writing, and more. These annually-published collections compile the best short works of literature published in North America, offering a powerful publication credit and public recognition to any accepted author. You can either be nominated by one of their editors or submit your publication to them directly.

Best of The Net To be considered, you must either be nominated by an online literary journal that features your work or nominate your own self-published work that was first published online. There is no entry fee, and all winners will be included in an e-anthology available on the Sundress Publications website.

Foreword Review’s IndieFab Awards (soon to be called the “Indies”) long process from enter to announcement. They announce a suspiciously long list of finalists early on and then offer expensive advertising opportunities in their magazine. Even so, it is a popular contest.

Eric Hoffer Award, The has been around since 2000 and is well respected as an independent entity with no corporate ties. It has fewer categories than some other contests. Cash prizes are offered.

Independent Publisher (“IPPY”) Book Awards is run by the Jenkins Group (a book marketing firm) and is clearly a for-profit venture. Good reputation over the last 20 years.

Literary Classics is a smaller contest for traditional and self-published authors. Offers media attention, quality reviews, a gala, and a book festival.

National Indie Excellence (NIEA) Book Awards is run by Smarketing, a book marketing firm. A few overall winners are given valuable book promotion packages through outside companies.

Next Generation Indie Book Awards is the largest not-for-profit contest. It is put on by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group in cooperation with Marilyn Allen of Allen O’Shea Literary Agency. After the ceremony they follow up with encouraging emails and general advice on how to leverage a win to improve sales. Cash prizes are awarded.

Nobel Prize is awarded to those whose lives have been spent writing literature that has inspired readers of all ages and influenced the world in a positive way. You can only be nominated by other prestigious writers, professors, etc., but the prize is well worth the work: over $1,000,000 in U.S. currency.

PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction requires no entry fee or application form for this award, but your work must already be published. The PEN/Faulkner Foundation accepts novels, novellas, and short story collections that have been published by commercial, academic, or small presses; no self-published work is accepted. Five submissions are awarded prizes, with first place receiving $15,000 and four runner-ups receiving $5,000.

Pulitzer Prize: Winning a prestigious Pulitzer Prize takes more than just submitting your favorite poem and crossing your fingers: Beyond the $50.00 entry fee, your work must survive the scrutiny of five to seven judges accepting only the most distinguished pieces of American literature. There are several categories specifically for writers, including fiction, nonfiction, drama (playwriting), history, poetry, biography, and poetry. Winners receive a certificate for their achievement and $10,000 cash.

Pushcart Prize: Since 1976, Pushcart Press has been honoring authors published in small presses and including them in their world-famous anthology, The Pushcart Prize – Best of the Small Presses. Literary journal and magazine editors choose nominees from work that has been featured in their publications, whether the submission is a poetry or short story collection, poem, essay, or short story. There is no entry fee.

Readers’ Favorite is one of the leading and largest international award contest. The contest is highly supported by the Top 5 Publishers in the U.S. and offers cash prizes, quality reviews, media attention, a gala, chances at entertainment contracts, and P.R.

Self-Published eBook Awards is ran by Writer’s Digest. The deadline is 8/1/18

StoryMonster Magazine offers multiple award contest each year. The Dragonfly Award and Royal Dragonfly Awards are considered in high esteem by the traditional publishing world. The magazine does a massive write up on the winners, PR and releases, and does extensive online marketing for the winners.

USA Best Book Awards is sponsored by USA Book News and i310 Media Group. They offer good support for winners on their site and through press releases, plus they make connections with the entertainment industry.

Whistler Independent Book Awards, new in 2016, is open to Canadian self-published authors. Each book receives a thoughtful critique that can be quoted for publicity. One interesting advantage to this contest is that the books can be up to 6 years old when entered. No eBooks.

Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards hosts the Popular Fiction Awards. This competition spotlights writing in many categories including Romance, Thriller, Crime, Horror, Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Young Adult. There are 6 categories to choose from. This is your chance to win $2,500 in cash, a spotlight about you in an upcoming issue, and a paid trip to our ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference.